Cognition level 1:

The popular conception is that the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, was named Frankenstein.

Cognition level 2:

People who think they "know something" about Frankenstein recognize that Frankenstein was the name of the university student who created the monster (thanks Evil Catullus for clarification).

Cognition level 3:

A son generally shares the surname of his father. Those who have also read Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio (part of Project Nodeberg) would realize that Pinocchio, like the monster, could be considered the "son" of the creator. For example, just as Geppetto Baccigaluppo's "son" is named Pinocchio Baccigaluppo (until he gets adopted), Victor Frankenstein's "son" (the monster) also has a surname of Frankenstein. The biggest difference is that while Pinocchio initially runs away from Geppetto, Victor abandons his creation (thanks sfc), putting the "son" status in question.

on the other hand:

<StrawberryFrog> Pinocchio did not have a perfectly good human brain before Geppetto carved him.
A famous novel by Mary Shelley, the full title is Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (get the full text of the book there!). The author wrote the book in 1816, at the age of 19, while living in Geneva. The story: A student of medicine, Victor Frankenstein, creates an artificial being who, realizing that it will always be feared and hated, becomes homicidal.

More widely known than the novel is the 1931 movie adaption directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff.

The setting of the novel is Ingolstadt, a small town in southern Germany, about 80km north of Munich. Ingolstadt had, at that time, one of the oldest universities in Europe, which was later incorporated into Munich's LMU. This university was also where the Illuminati were founded, an academic secret society the most famous member of which had been Goethe. Marry Shelley's husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley had connections to them, and this was probably also a source of inspiration for the book.

Frankenstein lives as one of the greatest monstrosities in film history

The movie you're about to see "may shock you -- it may even horrify you," opens the narrator; a man in a tuxedo. These “words of friendly warning” seem as a joke to the modern viewer who is used to blood and gore, chilling music and axe murderers. But in 1931, theatres were littered with fainted women when James Whale finished his version of Frankenstein. In this version of Mary Shelley’s book, James Whale and his actors, set designers, cinematographers and makeup artists, had the ingenuity, patience and sheer guts (if you excuse the pun) to make this picture a success.

The film opens in a graveyard, deeply shadowed, where self-deifying scientist Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), gather body parts to “experiment on,” creating life and all the responsibilities that lie therein. The monster (Boris Karloff) is treated badly by his creator and vows to make him pay. As the monster becomes more murderous, interrupting Dr. Frankenstein and fiancée, Elizabeth (Mae Clark)’s wedding, the doctor descends deeper and deeper into madness; until the line is blurred as to who the monster is: created or creator.

Many factors determined this film’s success, including the cinematography, which was revolutionary for the time. The lighting is harsh oftentimes mostly dark, making most of the characters look rather ghoulish. The use of German Expressionist angles (particularly while shooting the creation scene) intensifies the drama, bringing the audience in awestruck. James Whale was meticulous, sure that the contrast and composition were dead on both practically and artistically.

The setting was also done with a significant amount of drama. The opening scene, as well as several others is very obviously a sound stage, as you can see the painted sky in the background. The sound stage and high contrast shadows, combined with the unnatural movements of many of the characters provide a vastly surreal landscape. The outside of the lab shows Dr. Frankenstein behind bars, like a princess locked in the highest tower, waiting for salvation. Technical looking ray gun equipment, vials, and test tubes are littered in the mad doctor’s lab. The stones inside the lab circle the ceiling, (which has a pantheon-like hole) and during the creation scene, the lightning flashing in the ceiling’s hole creates a halo effect around the not-yet-vivacious monster. Contrast these dark scenes to Dr. Frankenstein’s ornate mansion and the friendly village, and the impact becomes all the more emphatic.

And who could forget the startling face of the monster himself? Makeup artist Jack B. Pierce’s work is astounding. The makeup was done to allow full facial movement so Karloff could display a complete range of emotions. Again, the Monster does not appear to be realistically dead, but the bizarre face further conveys the meaning of the story. It is no coincidence that the Monster and Dr. Frankenstein are both cast as strikingly pale men. This accentuates the monstrous aspects of both characters, making it easier to realize their relationship.

The acting in this movie is a tad melodramatic, as is common in many old movies, but, like the set and makeup, it fits into the movie, which is not realistic, but tells a profound story. Colin Clive does an excellent job as the doctor that plays God only to be driven mad by the repercussions: an ugly monster that cannot easily blend into society. Clive’s traditional 1930s melodrama adequately portrayed him as the tragic hero; a brilliant man obsessed with an idea. But Karloff is the real star, subtly showing his sad eyes, giving the speechless, nameless monster a soul. We see how he is misunderstood, mistreated; chained in the basement, beaten by Fritz, and we begin to understand. Whale focuses on Karloff’s hands, shaking in uncertainty and pain, and we begin to know the innocent monster and feel for him. In one famous and highly effective scene, the monster has escaped and finds Maria, a little peasant girl, with whom he instantly connects. You can instantly see the creature smile, and you feel a kinship with the character. The fact that the Monster drowns the girl is not an indicator of his savagery, but of his humanity; Karloff’s character simply did not realize that all beautiful things do not float.

Though classic, poignant and composed, Frankenstein was not without its problems, although most of them were not problems at the time of release. A modern viewer will see through the at-the-time revolutionary special effects and laugh at the cheesiness. The modern viewer will also agree that most of the scenery and costuming of the movie is quite cliché; one must keep in mind that James Whale and his crew invented these prescriptions for a horror film. One might also tire of the extra silence; there is very little music; this could be useful in some of the suspenseful and touching scenes.

A reader of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein (or, The Modern Prometheus) might argue that the many inconsistencies between the book and the movie are a problem. Many of these inconsistencies are cleared up in Whale’s sequel, the Bride of Frankenstein, where the essence of the latter half is redeemed; still, one might note a few more deviations. For one; the book is told from the point of views of Robert Walton (a sailor that picks up Dr. Frankenstein) the Creature, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (as opposed to Harry), as well as several other letters. The book seems to be as stitched together as the Monster, a little bit from quite a few. Another discrepancy between the book and movie is that Mary Shelley’s monster is quite vocal; telling us about his story quite eloquently. Shelley’s Creature is compassionate, saving a peasant from drowning, and still regarded with disgust. Whale’s monster does not talk, but Karloff does an extraordinary (perhaps more heart wrenching) job conveying the same misunderstanding.

Frankenstein incorporates revolutionary acting, directing and visuals to make a historical epic of a film. One of a select few artistic horror films, James Whale directs a stunningly original creative phenomenon. We will never forget the traditional mad scientist lab, or the stiff monster with neck bolts. The line “It’s ALIVE!” will be quoted dozens of times by innocent passersby. This movie has created so many conventions that it is equally important for study as for entertainment. Combined with amazing set design and Pierce’s mind engraving makeup art, Frankenstein will be forever remembered as a film that shaped a genre.

As evadyne touches on above, Shelley's original novel is related by Dr. Frankenstein to a ship's captain, Robert Walton. The opening chapters of the book are letters from Walton himself, who describes how he comes to pick up Frankenstein while attempting to cross the arctic and then the narrative switches to Frankenstein's perspective. Thus the novel is not presented in a chronologically linear fashion, but rather the novel begins with a portion of the middle of the story. Walton is generally lost from film adaptations of the novel, but it is interesting to note that there are surely certain parallels between the two characters, and here I will explore to what extent the characters are the same personality caught in different circumstances.

An important parallel between the two is their pursuit of a forbidden quest, an irrepressible desire to push back the boundaries of current human knowledge. For Frankenstein, this means the creation of life from non-life. Walton, on the other hand, desires to explore the polar regions further than any man before him, to “tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man”. To the audience of the time, with their small knowledge of biology and geography, both of these would be pressing concerns. Should man be allowed to explore the far reaches of the earth? A modern reader would consider this a trivial concern but in the 19th century, when large portions of the world map remained blank, it was not at all clear that such exploration was well-advised. Genetic modification of life, the creation of so-called “Frankenstein foods”, remains a hot topic today. Nevertheless, the seemingly endless, unrestrained advance of science was a controversial topic to Shelley’s audience, and so seen in historical context of it’s publication, it is clear that both characters are in search of some form of occult knowledge.

Both characters also receive the disapproval of more than just the morals of society at large, for they are both subject to a certain parental condemnation. Walton’s father banned him from a “sea-faring life”; Frankenstein is repeatedly chided by his sister Elizabeth for detaching himself from the family to pursue his scientific goals. The fact that both characters nevertheless deny the requests of their families demonstrates just how dedicated they are to their respective quests, and brings us to another parallel between them:

Frankenstein’s dedication is evident from the reader’s first encounter with him; although he is “dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering”, his first enquiry of Walton’s ship, his only source of rescue, is “whither [they] are bound” - he feels he is a part of something more important than his own life. He later makes this explicit himself, saying his endeavour is “more important than whether one man should live or die.” Walton’s endurance is perhaps not so maniacal, although his desire to go onwards to the pole even when they are “shut in by ice” suggests that he too is not lacking in resolution. This might be seen by the reader as a difference in the characters, with Frankenstein having a more irrational desire to continue, but I would argue it is simply a matter of circumstance - both characters overcome what hardship they face, although the hardship itself is of different degrees. We cannot judge Walton to be less commited simply because he has not had the misfortune to encounter harder times.

It is not that the two men are never disheartened - Frankenstein is “frequently in low spirits”, and Walton’s exaggerated self-encouragement in his letters suggests he feels his own spirits are failing. Their dedication is shown in that they continue despite temporary concern that they cannot succeed.

Another parallel between the characters is apparent in their search for personal glory. Walton claims that “discovering a passage near the pole to those [far-off] countries” is a secondary consideration for him, although there is no way to be certain just how much he really desires the recognition this would bring him. Frankenstein, on the other hand, makes no secret that he wants to supersede the work of “so many men of genius”, such that he alone “should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.” This is a key factor in explaining their all-pervading desire to uncover this hidden knowledge, although to some extent their devotion still seems irrational at times.

A further similarity of the characters becomes apparent when one examines their respective attitudes to their families. The reader can tell that Walton enjoyed a close relationship with his sister, as the epistolary opening of the book is addressed to her, but also it is clear that he wished to escape the “known” world of living with her and his family. Likewise, Frankenstein remains in contact with Elizabeth even during the height of his obsession with creating his monster, and it is not until he falls ill that this contact is broken. As soon as this occurs, Elizabeth writes to him, saying “one word from you, dear Victor, is necessary to calm our apprehensions.” Clearly, he comes from a close-knit family unit, and his description of his mother as “angelic” reinforces this. However, like Walton, he moves away from the safety of this closed family unit, and into University. Both characters have ambition to move beyond that which is well known, both in terms of their family and the boundaries of science.

It is in their personal relationships that the reader encounters the first clear difference between the characters. While Frankenstein “had a friend once”, in Clerval, Walton has “one want which [he] has never yet been able to satisfy” - that is, he has “no friend”. Neither character found it easy to make friends in their young days, but while Walton often has depressed spirits due to eternal loneliness, Frankenstein at least had a single close accomplice in his younger days, and while at University he found “a true friend” in M. Waldman. In this way, Frankenstein has been slightly more ‘successful’ in these stakes than Walton, but their individual natures as outcasts perhaps explains how they come to bond to each other so quickly. For sure, the chasm between few friends and none is great, and so there is an undeniable difference between them here - but again it is impossible to say how far this is due to circumstance. Would the character of Walton, placed in Frankenstein’s circumstance, have made the same friends or any? There is no way to infer the answer either way. from the text, without hopeless speculation.

However, this leads back to another similarity between the characters; their depression. Walton confides in Frankenstein that his “spirits are often depressed” and Frankenstein addresses him as “unhappy man” - Walton recognises his own inner sadness, and it is apparent to others also. Likewise, Walton describes Frankenstein as “generally melancholy and despairing” and Frankenstein himself says he has “lost everything”. It is interesting to note how the characters differ in their reaction to their despair; Walton tells his sister and Frankenstein about it, but does little to remedy the situation. Frankenstein, however, tells his whole story to Walton by way of a cautionary tale, so that he may avoid the same fate. Walton seems to feel the weight of having to not only “raise the spirits of others” but also “sustain [his] own” more heavily than Frankenstein suffers his own pain - and yet it is Frankenstein who suffers a nervous breakdown. Shelley perhaps wished to indicate the contrast between Walton’s chronic sadness over his solitude and the acute suffering of Frankenstein when his great plan falls apart.

Frankenstein’s failure draws attention to another possible difference in the characters, that is, their initial perception of the creature. When he catches sight of the creature on a sledge, Walton observes simply a “being which had the shape of a man but apparently of gigantic stature,” and this is close to Frankenstein’s original description of his creation as “of a gigantic stature” and “about eight feet in height”. That the two characters use the same phrase to describe the creature before his nature is understood emphasises the similarity of the way they see the world. Nevertheless, once he understands the full implications of what he has created, Frankenstein refers to it as “the demon”, and Walton imitates him. Therefore I would conclude that the difference in the way they describe the character stems from the different levels of understanding they have of its nature - and when they are at the same level, they describe it in the same way.

There is one final difference between the two characters. Frankenstein’s pursuit ultimately ends in a failure of sorts, because although he accomplishes his initial aim, it ends in personal disaster for him. Walton’s final fate is never revealed but Shelley perhaps suggests that his quest will bring him an untimely demise like Frankenstein’s, by the extent to which their fates are otherwise mirrored. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that, within the time frame of the novel, Frankenstein experiences failure while Walton at least avoids it, even if he does not taste success.

In conclusion, I would say that Walton can be said to be a mirror image of Frankenstein to a great extent. In many aspects of their character they are alike, and, perhaps as a consequence of that, their histories are similar also. Those few places where their backgrounds appear to differ can, for the most part, be seen as their being at different points along the road of their ultimate fate. Shelley, I believe, makes clever use of this parallel to suggest the ultimate fate of Walton himself. Overall, they certainly have very similar personalities.

Background

Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born on 30 August, 1797 to Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist, and William Godwin, a political writer. Mary's mother died 15 days after she was born, and Mary herself had a child prematurely that died when she was 16.

Her father taught her to be fascinated but terrified by technology. And even though her mother died too early for Mary to remember, Mary (who was also a vegetarian) was taught by her mother posthumously by writings, to respect nature. This was the feeling of many other writers and poets during the Romantic period. Other bibliogensises other than her father (Political Justice) and her mother (A Vindication on the Rights of Women) include Milton's Paradise Lost, Rousseau, and Phantasmagoriana.

In 1816, Mary Shelley came to Lord Byron's summer house in Geneva with her husband, Percy. B Shelley, a contemporary of Byron, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont. Due to the inclement weather of the summer, most of it was spent inside the villa. One night, someone suggested that they place a bet, a contest of sorts: they would see who could write the most thrilling, horrifying tale. John Polidori, Clairmont, Byron, Shelley, and Mary were all present that night, but none of the stories compared to Mary's tale, written when she was a mere teenager.

In fact, she was having quite a problem writing the book, until one night she had a horrifying dream. From the 1831 edition of Frankenstein:

"...the pale student of unhallowed arts standing before the thing he had put together, I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion..."

Upon her dream vision, Mary would begin to write the original and best Gothic tale. Not only was it horrifying, but it had a lot to say. Like many classic novels, Frankenstein: Or, A Modern Prometheus as it came to be titled, went through a process of transmorgification. From the outline of a ghost story (1816) written only for friends, through a first edition in 1818, edited by her husband Shelley, to the final product of 1831, we see how Mary Shelley crafted what she called her "hideous progeny".

A Woman's Role

Life comes from two living beings (or at least that's what I hear...), and that being is delivered into the world by the female. It's always been that way, it is that way, and it probably always will be. Even though childbirth can be grueling, it's still one of the most wonderful gifts from God: the gift to bring another life into the world. Feminists argue that in Frankenstein, this gift is stolen by Dr. Victor Frankenstein when he creates a being. By doing this, Shelley is reflecting the attitude of society towards women of the day: as inferiors.

Victor's egotistical move takes God's work into his own hands, challenging the higher authority. Society of the day saw women as powerless, and the creation in the book demonstrates this by easily seizing that power, and making life without a mother (this "motherless child" could also be a reflection of Mary herself-she never knew her mother).

Weaving the Romantic tenet of nature into her story, Shelley often combines the forces of nature and the being of women, using metaphor and personification to demonstrate her thoughts. It was beautiful outside his laboratory, but Victor became too engulfed in his work to recognise its beauty and serenity. His dream after the creation of he and Elizabeth (his adoptive sister and lover)'s nonexistent child is an eerie perspicacity to what will never be.

The creature is an objectification of Victor's ego-made into an object separate from himself. Similarly, Shelley reveals herself in the creation of the novel. This unresolved Oedipal complex may have rang true for both Shelley and Frankenstein- the death of the mother fixates their dream of reviving the dead.

Identity

Besides Victor and Shelley, there are other struggles within the novel for identity. The creature itself presents the largest example. He is rightfully confused, he has no parents, no past, no family, no anything. So when initially the creature leaves, this could be a physical representation of what is happening in his mind. At first, he is childlike, even psychosomatic, in his thinking. Eventually, he matures and learns the language of the DeLacey family, whom he observes after he flees from Frankenstein.

Rejected by them and everyone else around him because of his appearance, the creature begins to realise that he is ugly and hated. "Where they ought to see a kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster," he says. So he himself becomes a monster. In his rage, he turns to Victor again. The creature returns to Victor, asking him one last favour. He wants a female counterpart, one as ugly and miserable as he-to be his companion. All the creature needs is someone to understand, and he realises that humans are too cruel to accept someone like him. "I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth," he remarks, justifying his cause.

Victor, at first, refuses, but then accepts. However, in the middle of working on "her", he destorys the second creature, not wishing to do any more ill. The creature, outraged, declares "I will be with you on your wedding night!" Those words haunt Victor until, indeed, the creature bursts through the window on he and Elizabeth's honeymoon, and proceeds to strangle Elizabeth. Abandoned, full of rage, and alone, the creature does not stop his search for himself. He follows Victor all the way to his icy grave-just yearning to know why he is alive, why he is being. In a very sad instance, he never finds this out, and disappears.

"My life is a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguish nothing"

Why Should I Read This Book?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley may seem a strange choice in curriculum to some. What good can anyone get out of reading a story about a mad scientist who creates life out of death? Well, actually, a lot. Even if you know the story of Frankenstein, you probably still have no idea what it's about. Mary Shelley's Gothic masterpiece is a beautiful commentary in the form of an entrancing novel about God, human nature, and love.

Frankenstein opens with the mentally and physically tattered Dr. Victor Frankenstein laying aboard a ship in the arctic, telling his torrid tale to the captain of the ship. He is a broken and dying man, all because of one thing: he tried to take the work of God into his own hands. Victor pieces a "human" creature out of cadavers and brings it to life with electric currents. This one action causes him more grief than good throughout the novel. Ultimately, the creation kills his wife, Elizabeth, and his brother William, and causes him to play a deadly game of revenge, ending when the creature follows him to the icy arctic where he lay dying. His egocentrism cost him his life.

After the creature (unnamed in the novel) is brought to life, he ventures out on his own. He observes the aforementioned family in the woods nearby, leaning their language, doing them favours (unknown to them), and loving them. However, when he eventually meets them face to face, they reject him and run him off-all because of his incondite and ugly appearance. They know not of his kind nature, just that he looked like a monster. They show one of the most ugly facets of human nature: prejudice.

So, before you moan about having to read this novel, remember these points. Frankenstein is highly entertaining, using eloquent diction to weave intricate and frightening visual descriptions, thought-provoking conversations, and lessons of love. Frankenstein will not only open your mind and imagination, it will teach you the dangers of egomania, hatred, and prejudice.


brought to you in part by noding your homework. The last bit (Why do I....) got a 93 (A) in Senior English as an essay.

Frankenstein and Universal Mystery

Though it was first written as ghost story submitted to a contest between friends, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has deeply ingrained itself within the collective consciousness of Western civilization. Its brilliant scientist, Victor Frankenstein, drunk with power, imbues life into a body sewn together from corpses, and is forced to pay the price for his usurpation of powers not meant for man to wield. The image of science gone horrifically wrong has incredible relevance to the modern era, as the real and foreseeable dangers of nuclear weaponry, genetic engineering, and cloning weigh heavily upon the minds of every human being. Even more profoundly, Frankenstein explores some of the deepest mysteries of the human condition: what is humankind's existence, and what are its limits? Through the investigations into these questions undertaken by both Frankenstein and his creation are ultimately futile, they offer powerful commentary upon human nature and existence.

Victor Frankenstein's scientific endeavors make him a symbol of the seemingly inexorable force of Progress, the energy inherent in humanity that drives scientific and technological advancement. "It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn;" says Frankenstein. His quest takes him on a tour of Medieval European science, and he becomes engrossed in the works of alchemist Cornelius Agrippa, eventually moving on to the more modern science conducted by the likes of Issac Newton. This rehashing of Western science from its earliest beginnings to the cutting edge of 1816, when Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein, cements Victor Frankenstein's status as symbol of that scientific history and the urge that powers it. Frankenstein's association with the ideas of the ancient alchemists also brought him in contact with the search for the "elixir of life"—a quasi-magical substance believed to grant immortality. Frankenstein says that this search "obtained my undivided attention," culminating in his discovery of the secret to creating, if not indefinitely sustaining, life. His motivations for creating the monster that is now so famous are twofold, a mixture of the admirable and the selfish: "Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds," he says, "which I should first break through and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source..." Though he nobly wishes to illuminate humanity by breaking the bonds of death, he is consciously playing God, setting himself up as a revered idol. He also reveals his hubris, the presumptuous overstepping of bounds into realms that humans were not meant to enter. It is this loosing of the chains of life and death that leads to his doom, which he admits, crying that the monster is a "living monument of presumption and rash ignorance that I had let loose upon the world."

Frankenstein's ultimately self-destructive desire to "unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation" touches on a theme that has run through millennia of human thought and literature: the simultaneous danger and god-like power inherent in knowledge. It was a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that tempted the Biblical Adam to his Fall, with the serpent telling Eve "that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."—perhaps one of the earliest examples of this idea in mythology. Goethe's tragic hero Faust also desired God-like knowledge, selling his soul to the Devil in return for the power. The myth of Prometheus, which the novel directly addresses through its subtitle, which calls Frankenstein "the Modern Prometheus," carries a similar theme. In the Greek myth, the God-like Titan brings knowledge of fire to man, and is tormented by the Gods for his crime. As an analogue of Prometheus, Frankenstein unleashes forbidden knowledge upon humanity, and pays the price of a tormented existence. Though each of these characters was "sinful" in their pursuit of knowledge, there is a tragic nobility in their sacrifices, suggesting that the investigation of the mysteries of the universe is at once futile and essential to humanity—without our sometimes arrogant aspiration, we would not be truly and tragically "human."

As Frankenstein's experiences reveal this aspect of human nature, his creation's misery leads it to explore the inward mysteries of humanity. Hollywood misinterpretations of Shelley's novel have created a popular image of the monster as a shambling, mindlessly evil zombie, but Shelley's creature has a striking humanity—a quick mind, powerful, oversized body, and an injured goodness that turns it to rage and revenge. The monster's disgusting features are cobbled together from parts "selected... as beautiful" but become horrible when combined, forming a terrifying creature that so disgusts its maker that it is abandoned upon the eve of its unnatural birth. If Frankenstein's hubris was his first crime, this shirking of responsibility is his second, causing the monster to become forever alienated from the humanity that it wishes to be a part of. "Am I not alone, miserably alone," laments the creature. "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend." The creature turns inward when spurned by the society of man, asking itself, "Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred," it says, "but I was unable to solve them." The creature has stumbled upon the same eternally vexing problems confronted by philosophers and mulled in private by every human individual. Though it turns to a vengeful killing spree against its hated creator's family, the monster is actually a pitiable creature, human in that it is agitated by the same doubts that plague humanity. Its alienation from humanity becomes symbolic of mankind's alienation from ultimate truth, which leads to the feelings of angst and dread articulated in the twentieth century in existentialist philosophy, of which Frankenstein is sometimes seen as a forerunner. Existentialism and its companion philosophy, absurdism, eventually came to the conclusion that man truly is isolated—from God, from other humans, from truth and morality, leading to a sort of solipsism, in which only the individual can create a moral framework or justification for any action. This freedom carries a terrible responsibility, which correlates with Frankenstein's punishment for his refusal to accept accountability for his creation. Though the monster never attains knowledge of its place in existence and resigns itself to death, but its search for meaning illuminates the life of every person, raising awareness of our responsibilities and provoking the sense of compassion that also makes us human.

The monster's exploration of humanity's metaphysical reality, and Frankenstein's quest to better understand the physical reality of the universe combine in an image of human beings as creatures searching for truth, failing miserably at every turn, but noble in their dogged persistence. It might be easier to accept ignorance, but it is more human to fling oneself unto the breach, as does the monster, crying its last words: "I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames." Though Shelley's novel can do little to solve the mysteries that have been part of humanity since man first thought, her work does allegorically explore the human condition, laying bare humanity's faults, limitations, and worst fears.

The Lord is Alive!

The early nineteenth century was a fertile ground for new ideas. The eighteenth century espoused Reason and Enlightenment; the new ideas and new movements that it produced had just begun to flower. In literature and art, the Romantic movement was starting to take hold; in philosophy, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and others continued Kant's revolution in metaphysics. In 1817, the English Gothic writer Mary Shelley synthesized the two when she completed Frankenstein,or the Modern Prometheus, incorporating elements of Hegel's philosophy and Romantic thought. The central struggle in the novel--that between Victor Frankenstein himself and the monster that he creates--is a prime illustration of Hegel's master/slave dialectic.

This dialectic consists of a struggle between two "individuals" (or "self-consciousness [es ]") (Hegel 113). When they first confront each other, each seeks to prove itself. This attempt at self-certainty results in the desire to destroy the other, which causes the struggle ("They must engage in this struggle, for they must raise their consciousness of being for themselves to truth, both in the case of the other and in their own case" (114)). In this, one of the individuals stakes his life, and the other submits. This causes a lordship-bondage relationship: the lord achieves recognition, and the bondsman does not. The lord, however, "achieves this recognition" only "through another consciousness" (114)--that of the bondsman. The bondsman, on the other hand, becomes fully self-certain through a combination of "the two moments of fear and service" (119), the fear being the fear of death.

In Frankenstein, the struggle is initiated from the moment the monster comes into being. Indeed, the moment of creation is the breaking point; Victor says, "But now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart." (52). Frankenstein immediately flees. The irony of this is interesting: in the words of the monster himself, "You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!" (163). Frankenstein himself makes a reference to this Hegelian struggle when he " [springs ] on [the monster ], impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another." (94)

As the monster gains more and more self-awareness--he goes from the "confused and indistinct" "events" of his "original era of being" (97) to the metaphysical meanderings of Chapter 13--Victor's life becomes more and more dependent on him. His "heart palpitate [s ] in the sickness of fear" (54). This impression is heightened by the fact that it is totally irrational; the monster had barely opened his eye(s) when Victor fled into the night. He only conjectures that the monster is the murderer. On several occasions, the thought of the monster makes him severely physically ill.

The monster, on the other hand, functions through desire. His desire for knowledge leads him to learn the alphabet and everything else from the cottagers. In a way, Victor-the-bondsman satisfies this desire; it is his journal pages that answer the monster's pressing questions about his existence. It is his desire for recognition that causes him to burn the cottage down. It is his desire to harm Frankenstein that causes him to kill William. Thus, like Hegel describes, the monster "achieves his recognition" through his "object of desire." (Hegel 115)

He also achieves recognition through Victor, i.e. through the bondsman. He is "miserable" without Victor's "goodness and compassion." It is in Victor's "power" to "recompense" the monster for the hatred that mankind shows toward him (94-95). Victor, however, says that the monster "ha [s ] left [him ] no power to consider" whether he is "just" to the monster or not. Finally, the monster demands service of Frankenstein: "You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right you cannot refuse to concede." (139). This desire for a female is another manifestation of the desire for recognition: "I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being and become linked to the chain of events from which I am now excluded" (141). Eventually, Victor concedes, and the monster leaves.

This exchange may seem to many to be more of the character of pleading than demanding. Despite the monster's rather pathetic wailing, however, it is Frankenstein who is in danger here. "Thou hast made me more powerful than yourself," the monster says. If Victor fails to comply with his "conditions," the monster will "glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of [Victor's ] remaining friends." Victor does not show that he is willing to stake his life; the monster is "willing to defend" his (94).

Later in the novel, Victor finally decides to resist. He becomes conscious of his role as a human being ("Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations?"). He shakes off the monster's bonds: "I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats; but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race." (161).

In Hegel's theory, the synthesis of fear and service would make the former bondsman equal to the lord, and each would achieve equal recognition. This is what happens in this book, but in a perverted way. Both lord and bondsman come to the realization that the destruction of the other is their final purpose. As he is on his deathbed, Victor cries, "I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence; then my lot on earth will be fulfilled and I may die" (208). The monster sees his dead creator as his final destination as well. "He is dead who called me into being, and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of both of us will surely vanish" (217).

Ideas of self-awareness and recognition play very large roles in both the Phenomenology of Spirit and Frankenstein. They illustrate the ideas of the Romantic period: reexamination of the role of the individual and of this individual's relationship to the rest of the world. In Hegel's case, the individual is the Spirit that moves human history; in Shelley's, it is each of her characters. It is not unlikely that Shelley, the daughter of radicals and the wife of a poet, would find kinship with Hegel's monumental conception of progress as an individual entity. Her chief work bears this out.

Works Cited:

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. St. Paul: EMC Publishing, 1998.


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Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is often thought of as a story of one man’s act of playing god and the retribution that ensues. More often in film, the story revolves around the zombie like, unintelligent creature that ravages the German countryside. None of these, in my opinion, really show what is the real struggle in Shelley’s novel, There clearly seems to be three men involved in similar situations.

Walton, the explorer that finds Victor Frankenstein tossing and turning on an iceberg in the Arctic, is in pursuit of a place where no man’s foot has trod and finds himself and his crew in danger or losing their lives. His desire then turns to keeping himself and the crew alive while they find a way home. Victor Frankenstein, a young doctor, was in pursuit of cheating death by reanimating dead tissue and then later in pursuit of correcting his mistake by destroying the creature. Both of these men are in a cause and effect situation, in many ways, they are themselves the cause of their obstacle which they have this drive and passion to overcome. Frankenstein’s creature, however, through no fault of his own, is thrust into his predicament through the actions of Dr. Frankenstein. His quest is to understand his origins, and to find a fitting place in a world that is disgusted by his disfigured appearance. The injustice that he feels has been perpetrated against him and reinforced by the De Lacy family has sent him into an irrational rage that can only be quenched with Victor’s blood. This is why the creature in Shelley’s Frankenstein is the ultimate Romantic hero.

Both Walton and Frankenstein are in search of fame, although in different arenas. Walton wants to discover, almost like Columbus, “a passage near the pole” to hard-to-reach countries. Frankenstein, at first, wants to finish the work of the ancient alchemists and the turns his mind to the reanimation of dead tissue. Like so many scientists in reality it is only when it is too late that the horrific implications of his work dawn on him. No sooner does he see the eyes of the creature open up does he run frantically out of his laboratory. This action unleashes Victor’s creation to the human race at large, thereby putting all that he loves in danger. Walton can be excused from such heinous behavior since he has only put himself and his crew in danger.

Victor has one vital weakness, he fails to care for his creation and lead him on to what could possibly be a normal life for the creature, despite his physical deformities; such is conjecture, we may never know. The point, however, is that Victor never gives the creature the opportunity. “Frankenstein’s tragedy stems…from his own moral error, his failure to love. He abhorred his creature, became terrified of it, and fled his responsibilities” (Bloom). In view of the fact that the creature refuses to kill his creator even after Victor rejects him.

The creature, -and I have tried to use ‘creature’ instead of ‘monster’ because creature does not have the same destructive connotation, for indeed the creature need not have been destructive- is bereft of all contact with anything resembling love. He is born innocent, perhaps free even of original sin. This creature bears the least mark of blame or sin upon him. “In our civilizations we corrupt what is by nature innocent. The monster is not evil; he is transformed into evil by a human injustice” (Griffith). It is even more horrific to imagine that a man like Victor, who was given nothing but love from his family and friends while growing up, could withhold love from his creation to such an extent. Victor, like everyone else who comes along the creature’s path, is repelled by his countenance.

It is interesting to note that it is not the first time his shallowness has directed his response to someone. Victor himself comments on the physical appearance of his first professor, M. Krempe, and his reaction to him. “M. Krepe was a little a squat man, with a gruff voice and a repulsive countenance; the teacher, therefore, did not prepossess me in favour of his pursuits” (Shelley 44). This clearly shows that he makes snap judgements about people based on their appearance.

Another flaw in Victor’s character is his inconsistency in execution of his plans. When he first confronts the creature, he adamantly refuses to create a mate for the creature. “I do refuse it…and no torture shall ever extort a consent from me” (Shelley 144). He does relent, however, after a series of vacillations and through no torture, no physical torture, at least. He sets about creating a woman for the creature, but suddenly he has a flash of “conscience” and destroys the female creature that he was almost finished creating. Again, when the creature confronts him, he chastises him and cheats him again. “Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness” (Shelley 166). It seems as if he wants the demise that eventually comes to him. He is trying to taunt him, perhaps by taunting the creature enough; the creature will become enraged and kill him instead of hurting another one of his friends or relatives. If that is indeed his plan, it does not work, and what a costly risk he takes.

The creature is singularly minded; his actions are motivated by spirit, pure and simple. His passionate drive to discover his origins and to belong is coursing through him even before he learns to express it. He pauses in his quest only to educate himself in the only way available to him and this only so that he can better pursue his quest. In fact, this vicarious schooling that he receives drives him on even further into torment. “…sorrow only increased with knowledge….Of what a strange nature is knowledge!” (Shelley 119).

Frankenstein sees himself as a Romantic hero, even going so far as to identify with some of the most famous: “Often…I was tempted to plunge into the silent lake…” (Shelley 89). This is mostly likely an allusion to the Romantic hero Werther in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther who meets a watery end and was so popular that many young men of the time committed suicide in the very same way (Karbiener 228). He can’t even commit suicide in an original way. Victor almost throws himself into this turmoil, trying to give himself a crisis to contrast with what seems to be a gilded childhood.

The creature has no choice; he is born in crisis, lives in crisis and dies in crisis. He is instinct, raw nerves, a superior survivor and a tragic hero. He is adrift in a sea, much like Victor, but this is a sea of raw emotions that he cannot understand. He deals with them in the best way that he can. His situation can only end tragically as does all the characters, with the possible exception of Walton. The creature, however, accepts this fact early on and intends to live on through his emotions, which is all that he has. How much more of a Romantic hero can one be?


Works Cited Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2003.

Karbiener, Karen. “Introduction and Endnotes” for Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2003.

Bloom, Harold, An excerpt from a study of Frankenstein: or, The New Prometheus, in Partisan Review, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, Fall, 1965, pp. 611-18. Reproduced in Literature Resource Center.

Griffith, George V., An overview of Frankenstein, in Exploring Novels, Gale, 1998. Reproduced in Literature Resource Center.


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Themes in Frankenstein

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein is arguably, but commonly agreed to be one of the greatest literary works of all time. Published January 1st, 1818, the gothic science fiction novel set new boundaries for authors and readers that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Some of the most recognized parts of the book are the remarkable themes strung throughout well-written plot, characters, and setting. All of this is also brought out through the almost “breakthrough” style of narration that sets the novel apart from all others. Throughout the book, references of unruly knowledge, nature, and passive women are strewn throughout. Though they may not all be totally relevant to any sort of social significance – even for the 19th century, when it was written – they still provide the story the means for which it would become one of the most respected novels ever. These themes are even further strengthened by Shelley’s impressive and innovative style. Even beyond the consideration of a worthy plot, which is basis for it’s own respect, she adds more to be considered with great characters and descriptively written settings. The characters of Elizabeth and Justine, among others, provided great support to the passive women theme. As well, the consistently visual and beautiful settings add a whole other dimension to the theme of nature. All of these are presented through a perfectly planned and laid out narrative from the perspective of Walton, the monster, and Victor, all of whom consistently contribute to the theme of dangerous knowledge. Though the novel may be brief, it certainly does not lack in writing.

One of the more predominate themes in the novel seems to be that of perilous knowledge. However, it’s most present in the early to middle stages of the novel through as Victor becomes ever more delirious. Even as we learn in the very first few chapters of the book, Victor becomes obsessed with his search for knowledge. As a child, he found great interest in natural science and the writings of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Magnus. It could even be said that the lightening storm he witnesses and the devastating force he attributes to it foreshadows his later creation of the destructive monster. After attending university and quickly taking great interest in his studies, the real idea of dangerous knowledge comes forth when he secludes himself from everything and begins work on the monster. With all of the knowledge he had gained about nature as a child and through his readings and lessons, the search for even more knowledge drove him to insanity. No amount was too much for him, and he could only have proven it by playing God, which is exactly what he did. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 5 on Victor’s reflection on the creation of the monster:

The different accidents of life are no so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.

It’s clear that Victor’s search for knowledge (and even that which he already had gained up to this point) have driven him over the edge. He brought himself out of a safe and normal society only to put himself in danger; even himself admitting that he was being deprived of his health under his own means. This is all besides the fact that the monster he had so passionately created went on to kill several people. Victor’s knowledge that was once a gift had quickly turned into an undeniable crisis – for himself, and for all of close society.

Though it’s probably not the strongest theme of the novel, it can be seen that female roles in the novel Frankenstein are anything but practical. There are many characters to look at as well: Caroline Beaufort, Elizabeth, and Justine are the major contributions to the motif. This isn’t just some arbitrary premise either, which can be seen in Mary Shelley’s biography. Shelley was born to Mary Wollstonecraft, who, asides from being an author herself, was also a fairly well known 18th century feminist. One of her most recognized works was A Vindication of the Rights of Women that was written as a response to the commonly ordered “proper” female behavior. Shelley really had important things to say with the introduction of such obviously passive women, making this theme the closest to any sort of social commentary.
Besides being simply passive, all of the major female characters of the novel also have something else in common: they all find their eventual demise – not one of them lives. None of them, it can be seen, play any significant role in relation to Victor, and this even so much goes for the most important women in his life. His mother, Caroline, for instance, is rarely heard of beyond the first two chapters and is only known to have been nothing more than just another housewife, taking care of her children. This is a very typically passive quality, quite obviously in fact. Even Elizabeth, the adopted daughter of the Frankenstein family and Victor’s lover, behaves in a highly inactive manner. She proves no real contribution other than waiting around for Victor, her future husband, to return so they can start a family of their own. Yet again, this could almost be perceived as the “typical” female role when compared to the role of the “typical” man.
With these two characters put into view, it’s easy to see how much this theme is truly reflected in the novel, but it stretches even further into somewhat less significant female characters. As William, Victor’s youngest brother, had been murdered back in Geneva, Justine (another child adopted into the Frankenstein family) finds herself in a bind, being the prime suspect of the killing. Even during the time when she is under the scrutiny of the town, her role is definitely passive. She makes little effort to prove her innocence and even accepts her false guilt after time. While her trial, she goes on to speak further about her accusation (from Chapter 8):

God knows,” she said, “how entirely I am innocent. But I do not pretend that my protestations should acquit me…”

And, of course like the rest, she would go on to die. Even less significant, but still however present, is the female monster which Victor promises to create for as a companion for the original. Although it’s arguable, this female character is also somewhat passive, as it doesn’t even achieve life and thus no outstanding role in the novel. Despite this, it is still there and contributes to the theme.

One of the most overshadowing themes of Frankenstein would seem to be that of nature. Every setting in the book seemed to be the ultimate embodiment of nature, both good and bad. Even the basic plot itself – the construction of an animate being by another person – reflects a certain interpretation of nature. As Victor grows up he finds in himself an intuitive interest in natural science and follows this throughout early life. As he finally grows up more and more, he tests his intelligence and the disposition of nature itself by attempting to create an animate creature, almost pretending to be God. Everywhere Victor and the monster travels, the reader is given descriptive passages of very naturist settings: from Walton’s ship in the icy ocean, to Victor’s travels through the mountains. Consider the following passage from Chapter 24:

I was answered through the stillness of night by a loud and fiendish laugh. It rang on my ears long and heavily and the mountains re-echoed it, and I felt as if all hell had surrounded me with mockery and laughter. (…)
(…) Suddenly the broad disk of the moon arose and shone full upon his ghastly and distorted shape as he fled with more than mortal speed.

Shelley’s returning use of nature imagery proves more use than just to create a beautiful mental image; it really contributes to the mood of each scene. As in the example above, the imagery of the night, the moon, and the mountains instantly bring feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fear, all of which compliment perfect the next arrival of the monster for Victor in the scene.
Even as the mood of the novel changes, the weather changes as well. Victor’s continuing confrontations with the monster are often met with less than ideal conditions, and his attempts at solitude and happiness are reflected with beautifully serene escapes.

Frankenstein is more than just any other novel. Shelley had created just as much something innovative and impressive in her novel as Victor had with the monster. Unlike the monster, however, Shelley’s book became a thing of true beauty and art. Like a lot of other authors, she used themes to make her book be something important and interesting to read. Unlike other authors, however, she used the characters, settings, imagery and narrative to represent something that no one had seen the likes of before. Dangerous knowledge, nature, and passive women all played huge roles as motifs in Frankenstein and added a whole new level to the writing. She did this with grace, sincerity, and in such a way that it would leave just about anyone who read it in complete awe.

 

Written for my grade 12 English class for my independent study novel.

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Impassable Ice and Broken Boundaries: The Setting as a Moral Meaning in Shelley’s Frankenstein

“...it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight” (1).

This line embodies the potential of knowledge as an essential driving force. To some, knowledge and the pursuit thereof is a powerful aphrodisiac. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley captures this sentiment and explores the moral consequences of such an obsession through the parallel aspirations of driven arctic adventurer Robert Walton and sometimes deranged scientist Victor Frankenstein. Moreover, she uses the sprawling “icy climes” of the polar regions, bathed in the “perpetual splendor” of eternal sunshine as a metaphor for the inherent duality of knowledge, as both a light for humanity stumbling in the dark and a fire to burn away that thin veneer of civility supposedly inherent in our being (1).

Both Walton and Frankenstein possess an overwhelming desire to conquer that vast desert of knowledge and push back the boundaries that none have previously. For Walton, this means to color in the Arctic Regions on the global map. Frankenstein, on the other hand, wants to unlock the most profound secrets of life. But this parallelism in motivation, regardless of action, is wherein the moral implications of such a blind ethic are revealed and tied to the setting. There exists a direct correlation between Walton’s expedition into the Arctic, and Frankenstein’s unnatural goal of reanimating dead flesh. To achieve his dream, Walton must fight biting winds and impassable ice, he must fight nature itself. Likewise, Frankenstein’s grotesque vision appears to him as a holy grail to be sought after, and in his pursuit of it, Shelley exposes the sobering reality that to satisfy this aspect of human nature, one must battle Nature itself. Without a question, she is positing a morality of science, that there is a necessary limit not on what humankind can know, but on what humankind should know.

There is at once a sense of “wondrous power” and a remittance of “torturing flames” at work in Frankenstein (1,198). Shelley’s novel elicits this feeling in the reader by exploring the deeper facets of a world that could create a monster, through the Creature’s own eyes. This creates a dilemma. Though his outward appearance suggests “unhallowed wretchedness,” the Creature was born with “sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and majesty of goodness” (196). That the base of society could transform such desires for “happiness and affection” into the malcontent of a “malignant devil” spurned and spit on by humanity, creates a crisis of unspeakable misery within the Creature’s psyche (196). Those in crisis instinctively turn their eyes towards their origins and look for a sign. The Creature looks towards Frankenstein, but is let down, left destitute and alone. And it is in Frankenstein’s death, that the Creature returns to his metaphorical origins, that he shall “seek the most northern extremity of the globe” and “ascend [his] funeral pile triumphantly” (197,198).

In nature, life begets life; in the case of the Creature, he is life created from a contrivance of dead body parts. Death is inherently cold, and it is in his bitter arctic homecoming that the Creature answers Shelley’s question of the moral limits of science. There are places that science should not tread, the metaphorical northern utopia, that pinnacle of sacred knowledge, where the consequences of violating Nature may be disastrous and profane. The Creature extinguishes for the world “the light of that conflagration,” brought on by Frankenstein’s sickly romantic dream–he brings about an end to the sub-divine suffering of such irresponsible origins.


All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in the Signet Classic Printing of Frankenstein.

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